Originally published on February 12, 2015, at NationofChange.org
An NYPD officer pleaded not guilty on Wednesday after a grand jury indicted him on charges involving the shooting of an unarmed innocent man. Charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and two counts of official misconduct, Officer Peter Liang claims his gun accidentally discharged when he opened the door to a dimly lit stairwell. But according to prosecutors, Liang’s failure to follow training or administer first aid resulted in the death of an innocent man.
On November 20, NYPD officers Peter Liang and Shaun Landau were conducting vertical patrols on the eighth floor of the Louis H. Pink housing project in Brooklyn. Although Deputy Inspector Miguel Iglesias had ordered them not to conduct vertical patrols inside the building, Liang reportedly opened the door accessing the stairwell with the same hand holding his Glock .9mm pistol. Instead of opening the door with his right hand which held his flashlight, Liang claims that he accidentally fired a shot that ricocheted off the wall and into Akai Gurley’s chest.
“They didn’t identify themselves,” recalled Gurley’s girlfriend, Melissa Butler. “No nothing. They didn’t give no explanation. They just pulled a gun and shot him in the chest.”
Standing on the floor below them, Gurley staggered down to the fifth floor where he collapsed. Melissa Butler ran to an apartment to ask for help and called 911. As the operator instructed Butler to administer first aid until the paramedics arrived, Liang and Landau remained upstairs texting their union rep instead of calling in the shooting.
“It was an accident,” Liang reportedly told his partner. “I’m gonna get fired.”
Gurley was transported to Brookdale Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Officers Liang and Landau were taken to a separate hospital for treatment of tinnitus. Liang has been placed on administrative duty since the incident.
On Tuesday, a grand jury indicted Liang on charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and two counts of official misconduct. Liang surrendered to authorities on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty. He was released without bail.
According to Liang’s attorney, Stephen Worth, Liang simply made a mistake when he accidentally killed Gurley. Instead of following his training, Liang had his index finger on the trigger of his gun as he opened the stairwell door with the same hand. Gurley died because he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But according to Assistant District Attorney Mark Fliedner, Officer Liang took a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others by drawing his gun and doing nothing to help Gurley after shooting him. Prosecutors alleged that Liang had brandished his firearm while no threat was present and ignored his training by placing his finger on the trigger instead of resting it on the trigger guard. Liang was also charged with misconduct because he wasted several minutes texting his union rep instead of calling in the shooting and administering first aid to Gurley.
“There was absolutely no threat to him, his partner or any resident,” stated Assistant District Attorney Fliedner. “He mishandled his weapon, and as a result Akai Gurley is dead.”